Important Task for Indonesian President Joko Widodo

The Crisis of Forest Ecosystems in Indonesia’s Small Islands


Indonesia is an archipelago nation with more than 13,466 islands.1 This places Indonesia as the largest archipelago country in the world. Referring to Law no. 27 of 2007, islands smaller than 2,000 km2 are classified as small islands. Based on existing regulations, 80% or approximately 10,000 islands in Indonesia are categorized as small islands. The following is a comparison between the numbers of large and small islands in six provinces in Indonesia.

Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI) looked at these six provinces and saw that 14% or 3.5 million hectares of the terrestrial areas in these provinces are located in small islands. Moreover, in Riau Islands province, 100% or 900 million hectares of the province area are small islands. The areas above are only those recorded in FWI’s assessment. Based on the current geographic conditions, there are certainly more small islands in these six provinces as well as throughout Indonesia. With Indonesia’s status as an archipelago nation, it is only appropriate that its national development concept should be based on the country’s geographical conditions.

President Joko Widodo’s agenda known as NAWACITA includes an objective to return Indonesia to its state of glory as a maritime nation. This surely requires a reversal of the current development concept. Development that focuses on large islands is believed to be neglecting smaller islands. This results in the small islands being regarded as a granary of natural resources to be exploited for large island development interests.

One aspect that must be appreciated from the NAWACITA concept is the idea of developing Indonesia from the periphery. This impact of this idea will be felt in small islands, especially those Indonesia’s outermost islands. Natural resources utilization and development in small islands must take the island’s natural resources conservation into consideration. Rampant exploitation in small islands has degraded many small islands, even causing a number to sink. In 2011, the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MoMAF) stated that Indonesia has lost 28 small islands, and 24 other are vulnerable to sinking. Another fact is presented in the Maplecroft’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index released by the international agency Maplecroft. In their report, Maplecroft stated that 1,500 Indonesian islands will sink by 2050. The primary cause of this is sand quarrying and coastal abrasion due to rising sea level. The lack of attention given to small island development has resulted in the rising of illegal as well as legal exploitative activities that can threaten small islands’ ecological systems.

Natural resources exploitation in small islands clearly threatens the sustainability of Indonesia’s small islands. Forests in small islands do not contribute much to the total natural forest area in Indonesia. However, they are no less important in protecting Indonesia’s sovereignty as an archipelago nation. The existence of forests in small islands is critical in adapting and mitigating climate change and rising sea level. If these small islands’ natural forests disappear, then it is highly likely that more than 1,500 islands will sink by 2050.

Forest degradation in small islands is inseparable from land-based investments such as timber concessions, industrial forest plantations, plantations, and mining. In its study in the aforementioned six provinces that comprise numerous small islands, FWI recorded 2 timber concessions, 2 industrial forest plantations, 4 plantations, and 227 mining concessions. These 235 concessions manage 673,661.96 hectares or 18% of the total small islands area in these six provinces. The lack of attention and tangible actions in protecting the forests of these small islands will create a negative impact for the community. Degradation of small islands’ forests will eliminate community livelihood. There will be no more life if these small inhabited islands sink. Relocation of communities in vulnerable areas is not the solution. Forests in small islands must be protected so as not to remove community’s rights to natural resources. The Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) states that there are 30 million indigenous peoples along the coasts and in small islands, including 10 million indigenous peoples living in Indonesia’s small islands.

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